How We Walked Away From the Nation-State

Let’s be honest, people, we turned our backs on the nation-state first and now can’t act all surprised that it shrugged its shoulders and started waking away from us, too.

A society of consumers is neither willing nor capable of participating in the sort of give and take that the nation-state model requires. Just look at how we engage politically. Our main political tools are a protest, a petition, and at the very best, a public collective action where we detail our complaints but never offer anything, not even a list of actual requests. More often than not, we can’t even be bothered to figure out what it is we want. Remember #Occupy? The movement kept declaring how proud it was of not having the slightest inkling of its own goals.

As you surely remember, protester was declared the person of the year 2011. A protester is a person who protests, who addresses a list of what he or she finds unacceptable to some nebulous authority. A protester is actually proud of having no vision of what an alternative would look like. Abolish greed, ban bossy – these lists of infantile demands directed to some all-powerful magical authority are the only way in which consumers are willing to engage in politics.

The basic contract between the state and the people in a nation-state was, initially, that the state would ensure the well-being of the people and the people will be ready to die defending their state. Of course, we are not prepared to die for the state’s goals. But somehow the model has transformed into nobody being willing to do anything at all, tolerate the slightest bit of discomfort to make this state model function.

The great political movements of the nation-state have degenerated into Twitter wars, trigger warnings, and endless inane discussions of how everybody is feeling. Even the Salaita affair, which should have given academics a great opportunity to discuss the principles of academic freedom, has been bogged down in ridiculous childish speculations as to what Salaita’s emotional state was like and what his area of specialization is.

We have put an enormous burden on the nation-state and refused to carry even a small portion of the load. How can we be surprised that the nation-state cracked?

12 thoughts on “How We Walked Away From the Nation-State

  1. Report from the local Ukrainian festival:

    There were no political rallies while I was there, but I got there early and left just before 1pm while people were still arriving. Maybe something took place later. There was a booth with big sign reading “Stop Putin’s Terror: Defend Ukraine” that was taking donations*. There had a memorial to what they were calling the “heavenly hundred” who are apparently 100 people who have died in the fighting so far. At least I’m pretty sure that’s the case since they were referred to as “martyrs”, and that term isn’t usually used for civilian casualties. I’m not sure what distinguishes them from others who have been killed. Maybe they were the first? There were 100 photographs of the people in question, each accompanied by a short bio in English and what I assume is Ukrainian. It was quite affecting, the pictures and the bios were strikingly normal. Nothing that would be out of place in a college year book. At least from my sheltered American perspective, it was striking because it doesn’t seem like getting killed fighting invaders is the sort of thing that happens to “ordinary” people.

    I realize that I’m pretty much unable to tell the difference between different types of East European food. There were potato pancakes and Pierogi’s & etc., but I couldn’t have told you whether it was Ukrainian, Polish or Hungarian if I wasn’t told.

    Is Obolon beer considered good, or just swill good enough to serve to foreigners? It was a hot day and so I liked it. I’m used to micobrews with all sorts of weird flavorings, so I can’t really judge how good this was on the axis of plain beers.

    Oddly enough, there was a booth selling mojitos. I Didn’t realize that those were invented in Ukraine…

    *I gave them a dollar, which is all that I had left after spending my cash on food and drink.


    1. I’ve never had or seen anything like pierogies in Hungary (or potato pancakes though there’s a Polish dish called “Hungarian (potato) pancake”) which again, I’ve never found in Hungary.


    2. The “heavenly hundred” are the people killed by Yanukovich back in winter. They became the symbol of the struggle and they are what the Maidan stands for. This is why it’s so frustrating to hear that the Maidan was about the EU or NATO. No, the Maidan is about the people murdered by the government for disagreeing with governmental policy.

      Thank you for the report! It is very vivid. 🙂


  2. I broadly agree. The big problem is that the future of individual autonomy that some see as the golden lining of the collapse of the nation state seems very unlikely to me.

    It depends on people being able to disengage from unwanted or unnecessary familial, ethnic, language or religious ties. But it was only the nation state (not all of them of course) that created the institutions (based on things like rule of law) and traditions (high social trust) that make that possible and I don’t see them surviving past the nation state which means that most people will be forced to return to cleaving unto their given biological circumstances for security rather than being able to leave them behind.


  3. “We have put an enormous burden on the nation-state and refused to carry even a small portion of the load. How can we be surprised that the nation-state cracked?”

    And to be accurate everything will crack under the burden of this attitude, where everything is demanded, but nothing is conceded. This infantile attitude is already eroding educational facilities and even the possibility of a thorough, formal education. Unscrupulous politicians are ready and willing to give the children what they think they want, by taking everything away.


  4. In US political culture that still existed in earlier 20th century was systematically crushed by state. “Walking away” is just what people with short memories have done since late 70s or so.


      1. I think that is disingenous in some ways & also disregards the fact that there was a whole society and culture that existed and is gone.


  5. \\ Of course, we are not prepared to die for the state’s goals.

    I got the impression from your posts that the above was the walking away from the nation state by people, and “being willing to do anything” / preserving culture of political engagement wouldn’t have helped anyway. Is it so?


    1. Who knows? It wouldn’t have hurt, that’s for sure. I’m just tired of seeing this collectively aggrieved attitude of everybody being so upset that the nation-state is collapsing but not being willing to do anything but protest and petition.


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